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Bond Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

BOND Wine in Oakville, Napa Valley

By Published On: April 24th, 2024

Their Cabernet Sauvignon wines vividly demonstrate the range of Napa Valley's finest terroirs.

BOND wines exist at the very apex of Napa Valley, and have helped set the standard for what top-quality, terroir-specific Cabernet Sauvignons are capable of.

Today, there are five wines in the BOND portfolio, each of which is carefully crafted from Cab that is grown on the Napa Valley equivalent of Grand Cru vineyards—impeccable north- and east-facing hillside sites, between seven and eleven acres in size, that produce wines of unforgettable and idiosyncratic character.

Year after year, these special parcels consistently mine their depths to unearth the potential of Napa Valley’s distinctive geography.

Bond Wine vineyard view.
The range of terroirs, exposures, and more make the wines of BOND some of the most nuanced in Napa Valley. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

This somewhat Burgundian approach of expressing individual places through a single grape variety—as opposed to the opposite—was not the norm when Bill Harlan and winemaker Bob Levy conceived of BOND four decades ago. Nor was the success of this model assured. Yet, as with everything that the visionary Harlan and his team undertake, time and short-term profitability remained secondary to quality and long-term vision: Theirs was a multi-generational approach.

Bond Wine estate exterior.
The wines produced by BOND are just as expressive of their places of origin as the top Grand Crus of Burgundy. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

“I can’t think of another project where they’ve spent nearly 40 years working with over a hundred different vineyards to identify five, with the express purpose of finding character,” director of winemaking operations Cory Empting observes. “To many people, the labor-intensive selection process we’ve gone through doesn’t appear to make much sense. But if you consider the amount of energy we will dedicate to uncovering the purity of place for each of these sites over generations, the tremendous work that goes into choosing them seems more than reasonable.”  

The BOND team is so laser-focused on their work that the winery is not open to the public. That doesn’t mean, however, that experiencing the wines is an impossibility. Indeed, bottlings from across the BOND portfolio grace the wine lists of top restaurants around the world, and high-end wine retailers also offer BOND wines.

You can also request to be added to the waiting list to eventually gain access to an allocation of wines directly from the estate.

Bond Wine tasting room interior.
Tasting Room. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

A Stable of Wines That’s Second to None

Harlan and Levy’s goal wasn’t just to identify and work with vineyards that were at the top of the proverbial quality pyramid in Napa Valley—that, of course, was a given. Instead, Empting recalls,  Harlan and Levy sought land that “really had a voice, really had something to say unique from any other vineyard they’d work with.” In other words, they wanted to explore the concept of Grand Cru-level vineyards throughout Napa Valley, which really hadn’t been done before in quite this way.  

Harlan began working with Vecina in 1988 and Melbury shortly afterward—two wines that have become foundational to the BOND portfolio, benchmarks and reference points for Cabernet lovers, and emblematic of the care and obsessive attention to detail that the team pays to the unique parcels that make up the wines of BOND.

H. William Harlan, Founder of BOND Wine. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

BOND Melbury, located east of Rutherford, stands out for the specific type of decomposed clay in the soil, which leaves a distinct fingerprint on the wine. “If I were going to use one word to describe Melbury, it’s charm,” says Empting. “There are aromas that are somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Imagine family meals around the holidays: It’s like spice and red fruit. But the overall feeling is charm—there’s just this softness, there’s this comfort to it like spending time with an old friend.”

Bond Wine Melbury vineyard.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grown in their Melbury site is a wine of charm and comfort. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

Quella, on the other hand, is more or less the opposite. This site overlooks Napa Valley from the steep hills to the east, and its soils are largely composed of ancient lifted riverbeds and volcanic ash, which lend the wine an unforgettable sense of litheness.

“Aromatically, it jumps out of the glass,” Empting explains. “It’s much more in this kind of blue bramble area, but extremely lively and fresh. And then on the palate, it’s all about the movement and posture—we refer to it as a ballerina,” bringing together strength with lightness and grace.

Bond Wine Quella vineyard.
The aromatics of BOND’s Quella Cabernet are unforgettable. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

St. Eden, north of Oakville Crossroad, boasts red, iron-rich, fractured soil, with “rocks the size of a soccer ball,” Empting says. “It’s a site that gets quite warm during the day, but it’s actually probably our coolest site that we have at night,” resulting in wines that balance power and precise acidity.

Empting likens BOND St. Eden to walking into a room and seeing someone you find attractive, and then striking up a conversation with them and discovering that “they’ve also traveled the world, they were in the Peace Corps, they went to the London School of Economics. There are all these details about it that make you realize, wow, this shouldn’t all exist in one vessel. And it stretches the imagination a little bit.”

Bond Wine St. Eden Vineyard.
Complexity and fascinating layers of character define BOND St. Eden. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

Vecina is the closest of the BOND sites to the Oakville winery. It’s a wine that has, as Empting says, “much more of a vertical presence. It’s almost like a monument that you stand in front of, and it’s got these broad shoulders and this certain amount of muscularity, but it also has this extreme calmness to it.”

Bond Wine Vecina Vineyard.
BOND Vecina is a monumental wine. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

At between 1,137 and 1,327 feet above sea level, Pluribus is the highest-altitude vineyard, and the one that Empting has the hardest time pinning down.

“Once you think you understand it, there’s another curve in the road,” he says. “And I think a little bit of that is being on the mid-slope of Spring Mountain: You’re not at the top, you’re not at the bottom. Spring Mountain always has those very exotic aromatics, and so every time you smell Pluribus, you’re getting a slightly different facet. It’s constantly evolving and changing—you can never quite nail down what it is, but then, equally, it’s got all the acidity, and all these other layers of flesh. It probably remains the most mysterious to this day to me, but it’s something that creates a bit of awe.”

Bond Wine Pluribus Vineyard.
Pluribus is the highest-altitude site in their portfolio. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

Planting the Seeds of BOND

Before Bill Harlan acquired the land that would eventually become the iconic Harlan Estate, he owned Merryvale. Like many producers at the time, the St. Helena-based winery was best known for its flagship red, Merryvale Profile, which brought together Cabernet Sauvignon from approximately 60 different vineyards throughout Napa Valley. It was a very Bordeaux-inspired concept, as was the trend in Napa Valley the 1980s and ‘90s, with the onus on the winemaker to craft a wine of a particularly dramatic house style.

This was the era, after all, of the high-flying special reserves and private selections that garnered the most points and press. Harlan and Levy noticed, however, that there were two vineyards that stood out among the ones they were working with at Merryvale. “These vineyards had kind of gone past this threshold of quality,” explains Empting. “They really had these kind of unforgettable characters year in, year out, no matter what kind of season they were having.”

Harlan himself had recently been to Burgundy, where the goal, for the better part of a millennium, has been to express the truth and nature of a specific vineyard, a particular parcel, as opposed to blending from many of them. And while that wasn’t the trend at the time in Napa Valley, it had a deep impact on Harlan, and, ultimately, influenced the creation of BOND.

Bond Wine estate and cloudscape.
Vintage after vintage, BOND explores the interplay between terroir and weather with granularity and precision. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

“It really resonated with Bill,” Empting notes. He adds: “I think both Bill and Bob kind of had this realization that Napa Valley was kind of being fit into this very specific mold because of the varieties that we were working with.” Cabernet Sauvignon, after all, has a long history of being blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and other varieties, both in Bordeaux and in Napa Valley.

Harlan and Levy, however, realized that there were significant differences in soil, micro-climate, exposure, and more even within small vineyard parcels. What would happen, they wondered, if they made a wine that explored that aspect of Napa?

Bond Wine barrel room.
BOND wines at rest. Photo Courtesy: BOND.

This, it turns out, was the birth of BOND. Since then, the five Cabs of the portfolio have both deepened and expanded the concept of what world-class Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is, and the utterly unique ways it expresses the particular place where it’s grown.

The fact that Bill Harlan had the vision to pursue such a divergent concept at all, back when that was very much the opposite of the culture of Napa Valley, speaks to his lifelong dedication to expressing the very best of what this beloved region has to offer. Wine-lovers around the world have benefited ever since.

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